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The Spin Sheet

DVD reviews by Peter Schorn of The Digital Bits

The Transporter: Special Delivery Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

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The Transporter
Special Delivery Edition - 2002 (2005) - 20th Century Fox

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/B-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A-/A-

French writer-director-producer Luc Besson has spent the entire 21st Century not directing anything released since his hat trick of La Femme Nikita, Leon (The Professional) and The Fifth Element followed by the disappointment of The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc in the 1990s. Chop-socky flavored films such as the Jet Li-fronted Unleashed and Kiss of the Dragon have been penned by Besson, allowing them to be advertised as "from the director of" the aforementioned films, but he has left the shot-calling to others.

Another of his script jobs was The Transporter which is getting a coincidentally-timed double-dip re-release as the Special Delivery Edition to cash in on its incrementally-numbered sequel's release. Starring appealing tough guy Jason Statham as Frank Martin - an ex-Special Forces soldier living in the sunny south of France - it's a brisk, but shallow action flick with pretty sights, but little on its mind: It's a bimbo of a movie.

Frank does his driver-for-hire business under three simple rules: No changing the deal after terms are set; no names; no looking in the package. After the opening heist getaway scene, he's contracted to deliver a bag. When he gets a flat tire on the way, he pops the trunk to get the spare and is surprised to see that the bag is moving. Bothered that someone may be in physical distress, he breaks his own rule to bring it a soda and discovers those contents are a beautiful Chinese woman named Lai (Shi Qi).

When the recipients double-cross him after the delivery, he pays them a payback visit and ends up with Lai tagging along, complicating his previously quiet and well-ordered life. Local police detective Tarconi (François Berléand) is also sniffing around, investigating the various doings, aware that despite Frank's sketchy dealings, he is far from being the worst of the bad guys.

About halfway though the movie, the plot gets lost as it brings in Lai's evil father and some badly-handled and poorly-explained business involving people being smuggled in a shipping container and it's all rather thin, indicating that Besson must've run out of napkin while writing.

What The Transporter does best is its action set pieces and veteran Hong Kong director Cory Yuen stages the chases and elaborate brawls with slick aplomb. Statham is a surprisingly convincing fighter and his gruff charm works well here. Shu Qi is gorgeous, matching the tourism bureau scenery. When it's not trying to tell its weak story, The Transporter is a decent popcorn movie. Unfortunately, with the balance a bit too heavy on the debit side, it ultimately doesn't deliver. (Groan.)

The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is beautiful with loads of fine detail and rich, saturated colors that make me want to visit the south of France and drive fast with Shu Qi, too. If you look hard, you can spot some very infrequent bits of softness and maybe some noise in the shadow areas, but you've got to be ignoring the picture while staring at the pixels. The full screen version that was on the original DVD release was left in a car trunk at the airport and isn't missed.

With all the zooming, you might expect some sonic booming and whether you go with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 or (new to this release) DTS 5.1, you'll get a nice kick in the seat. As expected, the DTS has a bit more junk in the trunk, but I thought the Dolby track had more presence in the surrounds. Dialogue, music and sound effects are well balanced and the dynamic mix didn't have any noticeable distortion or hiss. Spanish and French Dolby 2.0 Surround tracks and subtitles in English and Spanish are also available.

Carrying over from the first release are the commentary by Statham and producer Steven Chasman; a 12-minute-long making-of featurette and 15 minutes of unrated fight footage with optional commentary by Statham, Chasman and Yuen. The fight footage is in rough cut form without complete sound (just a music score) and was pared down to secure a PG-13 rating and because when it was all clumped together, it got numbing. The making-of is your basic EPK type piece and the commentary is casual and chatty.

New to this release is another half-hour making-of which immediately confused me by mostly interviewing Louis Leterrier who acted as "artistic director", which I gather means he concentrated on the dialogue-heavy scenes, while Cory Yuen garnered the full director credit for handling the action. Interviews with the cast talk about the challenges of working on a multi-lingual set (French, Chinese, English) and Shu Qi talks about her race to get up to speed with English. Lots of behind-the-scenes footage is included and it's an OK feature as far as it goes.

There is a single storyboard-to-film comparison of the beginning of the ending action sequence and a 10-minute long preview EPK for The Transporter 2 somewhat hidden behind the non-descriptive title of Inside Look. Finally a voucher worth $7.50 toward a ticket to The Transporter 2 good through the month of September 2005 is the cherry on this DVD's double-dip sundae.

If you own the prior edition or have no desire to catch the sequel, there's little to recommend this trip, but if you're looking for an OK action picture with pretty scenery, a pretty girl, good action and a free ticket to ride the sequel, this may fill the bill for you. If you're interested in seeing more of Shu Qi, check out the film she made with Yuen before this called So Close, which was meant as Sony's Asian version of Charlie's Angels, but never got much notice here. It's not a great movie either, but it's got cute girls and good action, so how evil can it be?

Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition

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Tommy Boy
Holy Schnike Edition - 1995 (2005) - Paramount

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B

When I first saw Tommy Boy, my two-word review was "affably dopey". While it launched Chris Farley's starring role film career after five years on Saturday Night Live, he never made another film that was as good (or a fraction as good) before he died of substance abuse less than three years after its release. Not a huge box office success during its theatrical run, it has remained a quiet popular favorite in the ensuing decade and now it's getting a deluxe DVD reissue in the form of the two-disc Holy Schnike Edition.

Farley is Tommy Callahan III, the son of an auto parts manufacturer (Brian Dennehy) in Sandusky, Ohio. Finally eking out grade that allows him to graduate from college after seven years, he returns home to work for his dad, despite being the embodiment of the term "lummox". Dad announces that he's remarrying - his fat farm trainer, Beverly (Bo Derek) - and along with her comes her adult son, Paul (Rob Lowe), who Tommy instantly embraces as a brother, much to Paul's distaste.

When Big Tom dies at his wedding, the future of the company and the town itself rests upon whether Tommy can make the sales road trip his Dad had planned to launch a new line of brake parts. Failure means disaster for everyone and Tommy isn't the sharpest tool in the shed, so he's given his father's aide, Richard (David Spade), to guide him, much to his distaste as well.

What follows is the usual string of road movie pitfalls, pratfalls and set pieces as Tommy blows sales and tries Richard's patience. His new stepmother and brother may not be what they appear to be and what are the intentions of auto retail magnate Ray Zalinsky (Dan Aykroyd) if he buys the company? Hilarity ensues.

What distinguishes Tommy Boy from similar broad comedies is its warmth and heart. Too often, some comedies use aggressive and downright mean antics as they try for laughs, but for all the snarky putdowns from Spade, a sense of cruel malice is missing to the movie's great benefit. The sidebar romantic scenes between Tommy and the plant's cute shipping clerk, Michelle (Julie Warner), are sweet and she gets her own moment to shine with an outburst that shoos away some bullying kids.

I was never a big Chris Farley fan, especially after he stomped down the accelerator on death trip to follow John Belushi - whom he was frequently compared to - to an early grave. His frightful appearance a mere nine months before his death at the 1997 Academy Awards - extremely obese, drenched in sweat and looking coked-to-the-chins - signaled that he wasn't likely long for this plane. But here he managed to show the big, well-meaning heart underneath the terminal underachiever. Even Spade's trademark sarcasm is entertaining, not having become his sole defining trait of his later career.

The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer appears to have been made from an older print for light dirt and wear is evident. Detail, particularly in the foreground is excellent, though distant objects are a little softer. Colors are free of noise, but contrast is a bit muted because of the chronically-overcast conditions the film was shot under. Light grain is present, but not very distracting.

The English Dolby 5.1 Surround track is fairly front-loaded with only isolated instances of surround activity, but dialogue and music are well-balanced, clear and free of hiss and distortion.

In the extras department, we start with director Peter Segal's feature-length commentary. It's fairly interesting and casual, though many of the scene-specific tidbits were familiar to me because I'd watched the second disc of extras first. He notes that while Farley's addictions are legend, he was sober and very focused during the production of the film.

The well-stocked second disc opens with Tommy Boy: Behind the Laughter, a half-hour collection of new interviews with just about everyone involved with the making of the movie. The piecemeal development of the script - scenes were being written on the fly - and tough shooting process necessitated due to Spade and Farley's simultaneous SNL duties makes the quality of the end result even more impressive.

Stories from the Side of the Road is a quarter-hour relating the specific inspirations for the various memorable bits. Just the Two of Us is nice discussion of how the relationship between Tommy and Richard was very close to Farley and Spade's real-life friendship, including how Spade ripped on Farley, to Farley's constant amusement. Growing Up Farley has Chris' brothers telling stories of their rabble-rousing upbringing and wasn't very interesting.

There are a half-dozen deleted scenes with intros from Segal; a half-dozen "extended takes" which are just raw takes from a certain angle; 15 extended scenes - some of which are merely an extra line or two, others substantially longer; 7 storyboard comparisons; a 4-1/2 minute long gag reel; a photo gallery of about 50 production snapshots; a whopping 19 TV spots in both 15 and 30-second flavors, and the theatrical trailer. Some of this stuff is quantity over quality, but much of it has some passing merit and the very end of the blooper reel is a hoot.

Any self-respecting comedy film library should have a copy of Tommy Boy in it and the Holy Schnike Edition is a fine version to pick up - though Paramount makes you chapter skip through a half-dozen trailers before you get to the main menu. The movie is a sweet treat, the disc quality is good and short of Farley crawling from the grave to kick in his one-fiftieth of a dollar the extras aren't going to get much more comprehensive.

Pirates of Silicon Valley

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Pirates of Silicon Valley
1999 (2005) - Turner Network Television (Warner Home Video)

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B/D-

Long before Bill Gates became a Sith Lord and Steve Jobs the head of a fanatical death cult, they were just brilliant, if sometimes confused, young men who by a combination of smarts, guile and occasional dumb luck, managed to revolutionize the world. So pervasive is the personal computer in our world, it's easy to forget that only 30 years ago, the means for me to write and you to read this review didn't exist!

Pirates of Silicon Valley is a breezy, but unfocused, primer on the early days of the Apple and Microsoft corporations. Jobs (Noah Wyle) is a restless young man attending Berkley who wants to start a revolution without a shot; Gates (Anthony Michael Hall) is a poker-playing nerd at Harvard. In the mid-to-late-Seventies, they started on their respective ascents (and descents) and the film does a decent job of portraying some of the key milestones when it can keep its mind on the story.

Using Jobs partner (and real brains behind the first Apple computers) Steve Wozniak (Joey Slotnick) and rambunctious Gates wingman Steve Ballmer (John DiMaggio) - there sure are a lot of Steve's in this story - as narrators addressing the camera and occasionally interfacing with CG backgrounds, the story bubbles along nicely in a manner that's understandable to non-nerds.

Where the movie stumbles is in its digressions into personal details of their lives which don't have any bearing on their businesses. Jobs is first shown as a hippie following various bliss; later a lout with a illegitimate daughter that he initial avoided responsibility. Time is wasted showing Gates as a leadfoot and doing stuff like racing bulldozers in the dead of night, damaging co-founder Paul Allen's (Josh Hopkins) car. In a longer movie, these scenes may've provided some flavor, but with a mere 97 minutes to work with, it's superfluous.

Most of the time is spent on Jobs story and it's pretty a bare-knuckled in showing the darker side of Jobs. He's aloof and verbally abusive to his minions, never paying compliments, opting to denigrate instead of encourage. He pits the Macintosh team against the Apple II team and while other counsel that he's tearing the firm apart, he believes that growth requires conflict. (Apple's sub-5% market share shows how well that thinking worked. Without the iPod and the educational markets, where would they be?) What we don't get is why Jobs inspires such adulation in his devotees? Charisma must count for something, but we're not shown much here.

Gates is given much shorter shrift, basically portrayed as being jealous of Apple and conniving in his dealing - ever the poker player in all his affairs. But in the end, we don't really learn much about what made him tick and how he was able to parley second-best goods into the world's largest personal fortune. The giant leap between Jobs' sacking and the unholy alliance between the two firms that bookends the story is ignored and thus no real significance can be drawn by the denouement.

The video quality of the 1.33:1 full screen is mixed. Colors are good and free of noise and smearing. Detail is very good and edge-enhancement isn't an issue, but some darker scenes get muddy in the shadow details and lose definition. Skin tones are accurate and grain is minor.

On the audible side of the ledger, the English (or Spanish) Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix (subtitles in English and Spanish) is a respectable audio track with the dialogue and haphazardly-chosen songs in proper balance, but material like this isn't meant to show off the surround rig in the first place.

The only extra - if you can call it that - is a 3-1/2 minute long DVD Intro by Noah Wyle, which relates that he was contacted by Jobs after the show aired and invited to play him at the MacWorld keynote address in front of 10,000 people. There are a few trailers and it's interesting to see the Pirates trailer has several scenes that weren't in the finished film.

While Pirates of Silicon Valley is pretty accurate when it wants to be, it leaves too many gaps in the narrative, especially toward the end. A far better and still entertaining documentary on the subject is the 3-hour-long PBS show, Triumph of the Nerds, which covers this same terrain through interviews with all the players themselves. The big stumbling block to recommending picking that up instead is the insanely not great price tag of $50. As good as it is, it's not $50 good and the DVD omits some of the original's footage.

Peter Schorn
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